By Mel Greenberg
PHILADELPHIA _ In many situations, the reach of women's basketball stretches far beyond the court strategies, the summer WNBA competition, and the winter race for the NCAA championships.
The Guru attended four separate events to date this month and all had roots in basketball but note was taken of how much the sport and life beyond the hardwood interact.
On June 9 the Guru attended the eighth annual Dawn Staley Foundation Black Tie Sneaker Gala, which will be the focus of this post in a bit. Then it was on to Knoxville, Tenn., for the 11th annual Women's Basketball Hall of Fame induction celebration. While on the scene, the Guru dropped in on Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's camp, which at the time had a bunch of young Iraqi women who were thrilled to get a chance to come overseas and participate under the Hall of Famer and her staff.
You can find coverage of the event elsewhere but the Guru mentions the Tennessee camp in that here was another illustration how people-to-people programs put a much friendler face on a situation that dominates the headlines in terms of the fighting in the Mideast.
Because of that conflict, State Department officials said the last names of the participants were not given for security reasons. But being unable to know who these young students were by full identity was not important. What was key was how eager they were to mix with Americans and learn to how to improve their game, which is only in its infancy compared to the sport in the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, over at the Hall of Fame, 2009 inductee Jennifer Azzi, a former Stanford-Olympic-WNBA-ABL star noted in her remarks how she is about moving forward and not looking back. However, having grown up in nearby Oak Ridge -- yes, that Oak Ridge that's the home of the atom bomb -- Azzi said her return to her roots made her realize how connected everything is and how important the game is to international understanding.
The Guru will have more of that weekend in a few days. On Sunday, the Guru attended the Honda Inspiration Awards dinner in New York where Drexel's Nicole Hester was honored for winning fight against Hodgkins Lymphoma. Posts above this one should have more detail on those activities.
That brings us to the Staley foundation event, which is always a highlight. The fact that it was held again here demonstrates that her work continues in her home city even though she is now a year removed from Temple having completed her first season at South Carolina.
Staley's work with the foundation, which she established after winning her first Olympic gold medal in 1996, has resulted in the WNBA naming an award after her for similart efforts, which recently went to former Connecticut Sun star Tamika Raymond, who was a member of several NCAA champions at UConn.
Although Staley has been lauded over the years for her playing career at Dobbins Tech, the University of Virginia, in the Olympics and in the pros, it is her work with youngsters at-risk who have come to the foundation's after-school program that gives her the most passion.
In past years, the black tie gala honored persons in the community from different business and entertainment fields for their work in the community.
This time, the foundation turned to its own and it was impressive in citing five products of the program who came off the city streets and by all accounts are on their way to successful careers.
The printed program gave profiles of five winners under the title: Women Who Beat the Odds.
Alexis Felder, who was a participant from 1999-2005 is a graduate of Germantown High who will be a senior at Saint Augustine College in Raleigh, N.C., majoring in sports management. After graduation, she plans to attend Georgia State Law School, seeking to become an agent. But she also would like to create a program that helps young girls in Pennsylvania and gives them a safe residential haven.
Avis Wilson joined the Navy in 2008 and is one of six females in the nationally recognized ceremonial guard. She is currently enrolled at the American Military Institute for legal studies. She would like to become a criminal defense attorney.
Christina Johnson graduated this year from Chowan University in North Carolina with a degree in biology with a track in environmental studies. She has been on the dean's list for five semesters.
Karin Wallace is a 2005 graduate of Simon Gratz high and is now majoring in public health at Temple. She hopes to begin her own program, focused on adolescents. she is a mother, a student, and an Emergency Medical Technication.
Shaquita Grier graduated from Edward Bok in 2008 and just finished her first year at Chestnut Hill College with grade-point-average of 3.4. She is majoring in forensic science. She has been a summer intern in the engineering department of PECO, working on projects to identify faulty wiring in electrical stations throughout Pennsylvania.
Although the Guru condensed the biographies here due to the late hour of the night this is being written, here is something not shortened.
Angie Nelson, who is the hands-on day-to-day head of the foundaton, graciously provided the Guru with a copy of the acceptance speech, which Alexis Felder made on behalf of all of the winners. It speaks for itself, and thus, the Guru will sign off this post, leaving you to read the speech in its entirety:
Good evening distinguished guests, sponsors, Dawn Staley, the Dawn Staley Foundation Board of Directors and friends of the Dawn Staley Foundation. My name is Alexis Felder, and I have been associated with the Dawn Staley Foundation for ten years both as a participant and volunteer of the after school program.
As I stand before you representing this year’s honorees, I cannot help but to reflect on our lives growing up in North Philadelphia. We faced many obstacles that could have easily broken our spirit. We were constantly exposed to people getting killed in front of our eyes, neighborhoods ruined by the effects of drugs and the game of selling drugs. The lack of proper nurturing and guidance led many of us down the road of making poor choices. Regularly attending school and getting good grades placed second to learning how to survive the inner city streets, and the thought of applying for and entering college was non-existent.
The negativities could have easily been our downfall.
But God blessed us with a place we called home- The Dawn Staley Foundation After School Program. This program gave us a sense of security and love. It became our safe haven, a way to escape the madness of our environments. Because Dawn Staley created this foundation, we learned the importance of believing in ourselves and that we had the power within to change our lives. The concept that we can do anything we put our mind to was constantly drilled in us on a daily basis. The continued support, the emphasis of education, and the daily nurturing from staff members, encouraged us to dream and live our boldest dreams.
I believe that Dawn Staley also created this foundation to form great sisterly bonds with our peers. Many of us entered the program as dysfunctional teenagers, continuing to isolate ourselves from those who were going through similar experiences. My involvement with the Dawn Staley Foundation, fostered relationships with young women sharing many of the same experiences and as a result we developed a bond with one another that will never be broken. We have emerged from the program as grounded young women. We continue to support and nurture each other throughout our college years and hopefully beyond.
Tonight you see women before you who are determined to reach their destiny. Among you are recent college graduates, college seniors, and a Navy officer, all with dreams of becoming entrepreneurs, a forensic scientist, Federal Bureau Investigative Agent, and even a J.A.G. officer. Our accomplishments are just a few of what many of the young women that have passed through the program have achieved. The women that are being honored along with myself tonight are some of the very products that the Dawn Staley Foundation helped produce. In the spirit of giving, I ask that you continue to support the Dawn Staley Foundation After School Program, so that young ladies can continue to be loved, nurtured and shaped into responsible citizens and great leaders of tomorrow.
On behalf of former and current participants, we would like to thank Dawn Staley for creating a place for us to be safe and prepare to achieve our dreams. As honorees, we would like to extend a very special thank you to Dr. Nelson and Ms. Terry Ward- Filmore for teaching us to always strive for excellence in all that we do. And thanks also to the Dawn Staley Foundation staff and sponsors for investing in our dreams.
Thank You and enjoy the rest of your evening.